Gordon Polson

director, Federationof Bakers

Earlier this year, research commissioned jointly by the Federation of Bakers and the Flour Advisory Board and carried out by the University of Portsmouth found that up to 20% of adults think they suffer from a food allergy or intolerance. However, evidence suggests that the real prevalence is less than 2%.

The report suggested that over half of the British population believes that wheat allergy is a common illness and, in 2009, wheat was the most commonly self-reported food allergen. It seems we are fighting against a ’perceived’ problem in the minds of our consumers. So how do we go about tackling this?

There is no doubt that genuine food allergies can be very difficult to live with, but, for many, the problem of allergies and intolerances is not a reality. One major problem appears to be misdiagnosis.

Food allergy is usually investigated by a skin prick test by a medical professional in conjunction with an elimination diet. At present, there are no validated tests for diagnosing food intolerance, although diagnosis is usually through avoidance. This leaves the path to misdiagnosis wide open.

However, it is also important that people do not put their health at risk by unnecessarily avoiding wheat. We have to investigate where these misconceptions are coming from and why people are developing negative associations with bread. The media must be held partly responsible, as well as irresponsible pseudo health professionals who prey on a public so concerned with health. We must continue to encourage people to see bread as the healthy food it is and quash these harmful erroneous beliefs.